Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Paper Backtime: Maddow On Defense

With the third Presidential debate as a backdrop, I thought it would be appropriate to release Backtime's notes on Rachel Maddow's first book, Drift: The Unmooring of American Military Power.

Many of my friends and colleagues unfortunately take their cues from Sean Hannity and Charles Krauthammer, and would dismiss this book solely on the basis of its author. Their loss. 

In fact, here is a prominent testimonial lifted from the back cover:

"Rachel Maddow makes valid arguments that our country has been drifting toward questionable wars, draining our resources, without sufficient input and time. People who like Rachel will love the book. People who don't will get angry, but aggressive debate is good for America. Drift is a book worth reading.

~ Roger Ailes, chairman and CEO, Fox News

War is hell. War is supposed to hurt. When America is at war, everyone is supposed to feel it. That's what the framers like Jefferson and Madison had in mind. The reason to go to war could be too personal or idealogical or partisan for a President to declare, without a congressional ratification process. It's the nature of our checks and balances government system.

But as Ms. Maddow argues, that process has been circumvented in the last 50 years. Now administrations routinely detach our military personnel from the American whole, and place them at their whims like the plastic GI Joe figurine that guards the book's cover.

The first such case was Vietnam, when Lyndon Johnson would gradually increase military presence so as to have a war on the ground out there, without America feeling the effects of war at home. Fighting "a war on the cheap" was obviously ineffectual and deadly for our soldiers, so it was stepped up into a full-scale war.

Ronald Reagan was ultimately the one who tipped the balance in avoiding congressional approval and taking direct military action. First in Grenada, when the US intervened after a communist coup in a country no one had ever heard of, an incursion described by the UN General Assembly as "a flagrant violation of international law."

Then Reagan became obsessed with the crusade of the Nicaraguan Contras, which spawned the clandestine Iran-Contra business, which featured a Watergate-like list of characters facing the music. Reagan didn't have to, despite repeated end runs around congress to trade arms for hostages to fund Central American freedom fighters. Even with the President's fingerprints all over it, the theory is since Reagan was beloved and in ill mental health, an impeachment would've been too heartbreaking for the nation.

The congressman who fought for Reagan's executive authority was Dick Cheney of Wyoming, who coincidentally became George H. W. Bush's Secretary of Defense. When Bush wanted to go liberate Kuwait from the Iraqis, he tried to push executive action. But Congress held him up until January of 1990, when the first Iraq war was approved.

The system worked, in theory. But the major troop outlays now all over the world made us re-think how to handle finances. Along came military contractors. The military need not be responsible for food services, laundry, general transportation, etc., and thus started down the road to privatization of war. And that meant war for profit.

This became problematic during the issues in Bosnia under Clinton, when military contractors were accused of atrocities, including abuse of women and children.

Then came Bush #43, 9/11 and Afghanistan. Which morphed into a search for WMDs in Iraq, to the exhaustion of our forces. But there was no draft as the country at large was spared the sacrifice, we were even given tax cuts; enter Halliburton and Blackwater to pick up the slack over there.

And now under Obama we have increased drone attacks, where we push a button here and a neighborhood on the other side of the world goes boom. No troops in harm's way. No PTSD. No rules of engagement.

Maddow's book isn't too different stylistically from her program. While she is very clever, she is rarely glib. She still entertains in a very roundabout way, but ultimately connects all the dots and opens eyes.

Most importantly she doesn't blame either party, rather chronicling the US history and the tension that exists when politics and military action become intertwined. We are also ultimately a nation that despises war, and legislators are problem solvers (which often creates more problems) so if we can go to war without being at war, it's a win-win, right?

Hence The Unmooring of American Military Power.

No comments:

Post a Comment